Pope Francis offers shelter to homeless during freeze

By Christopher Lamb
Saturday, January 14, 2017

Icicles were hanging from a fountain as Pope Francis lead the Angelus from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Jan. 8.

VATICAN CITY — Rome is in the grip of a deep freeze with its famous fountains such as Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Fontana del Tritone in Piazza Barberini filled with ice rather than water.

The subzero temperatures are toughest on the homeless with those sleeping on the streets risking their health, and in some cases their lives.

Never one to simply walk on the other side in the face of suffering, Pope Francis has ordered the Vatican to open up dormitories to accommodate the homeless. He has also asked that motor vehicles be left for people on the streets to sleep in, as well as for thermal sleeping bags to be distributed to those in need.

This is another example of Francis’ compassion-centered vision of faith, or what could be described as a “last shall be first” policy: This was put into action at the end of the jubilee year when Francis put on a music concert for the homeless inside the Vatican, giving them front-row seats in the auditorium, while cardinals and bishops took their places farther back.

Such an approach has won Francis numerous admirers, although it’s no secret that there are those in Rome who have challenged his cautious opening to allowing some divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. This week, however, the man in charge of the Holy See’s doctrinal office, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, said that Pope Francis had been clear (see page 12).

The pope, Cardinal Müller told Italian news channel TGCom24, asks priests “to discern the situation of these persons living in an irregular union — that is, not in accordance with the doctrine of the church on marriage — and asks for help for these people to find a path for a new integration into the church according to the condition of the sacraments (and) the Christian message on matrimony.”

The German cardinal-theologian, appointed by Benedict XVI and well known for his orthodoxy, added: “I do not see any opposition: On one side we have the clear doctrine on matrimony, and on the other the obligation of the church to care for these people in difficulty.”

At the heart of Francis’ vision is discernment of individual situations and for the church to accompany people on that journey. No longer is it simply a question of reading the laws or the Catechism of the Catholic Church to people but rather of helping them work out the best way forward in their specific situations.

The pope, it appears, is moving away from a rules-focused Catholicism to a conscience-based one — and it is, according to Francis, perfectly consistent with the church’s tradition.

This is a vision of faith that goes out into today’s world and that faces reality, however messy. Francis has led the way here. This includes global conflicts and terrorism, two issues he addressed in an annual speech to diplomats on Jan. 2.

In an address focused on peace and security, the pope condemned religiously inspired terrorism as “homicidal madness,” which he said faith leaders should unite in condemning. At the same time, he argued that easy access to conventional weapons — such as guns, land mines, shells and bombs — makes the world a more dangerous place.

“With regard to conventional weapons, we need to acknowledge that easy access to the sale of arms, including those of small caliber, not only aggravates various conflicts, but also generates a widespread sense of insecurity and fear,” he told ambassadors to the Holy See from across the world. “This is all the more dangerous in times, like our own, of social uncertainty and epochal changes.”

While his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, is best known for his poverty, he was also a man of peace, and this pope has been an outspoken advocate for nonviolence while condemning the global arms trade, once again calling for its elimination in his speech to the diplomats.

There are those in Rome who want Francis to issue an encyclical on peace that would update or even eliminate just war theory — the moral test proposed by St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas to justify military action. Cardinal Peter Turkson, who leads the Holy See’s new social justice dicastery for “promoting integral human development,” has called on the pope to do this. He says that just war theory is outdated, and that modern-day warfare, with its weapons of mass destruction, cannot be justified.

Throughout his papacy Francis has delivered a steady stream of surprises, and this may be an area where he does so again. Watch this space.


  • pope francis
  • vatican
  • pastoral care
  • homelessness

Related Articles